How the Warriors Fooled and Upset the Grizzlies on Christmas Day

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SAN FRANCISCO — Perhaps the biggest play in the Warriors’ 123-109 Christmas win over the Grizzlies came as half the crowd was still returning from the lobby. It was the first possession of the second half. Jaren Jackson Jr. was guarding Draymond Green, giving Green a green light to go dirty hunting.

The Warriors controlled the first half, leading by as many as 16 points. But a 6-0 run by Tyus Jones in the final 27 seconds cut the Memphis deficit to five. The Grizzlies had momentum coming out of the locker room, but they also had an elite center who couldn’t stay down in the first half because of three quick fouls. To nail the Warriors, they needed Jackson to guard against a fourth whistle.

No one knew this better than Green, a basketball genius who is particularly stuck during big matchups. He knew Jackson’s total fouls, importance to the Grizzlies and his maddening tendency to reach moments when he shouldn’t. Then, eight seconds into the break, Green popped up for a typical handoff dribble with Donte DiVincenzo, saw Jackson’s long arm reaching into the near airspace, and gave himself an audible quick into a fake DHO dive, hitting Jackson’s arm.

Whistle🇧🇷 Green got what he was looking for and immediately pointed four fingers toward the Memphis dugout, alerting the Grizzlies that it was time to replace Jackson out of the game. Here’s the clip.

The NBA scheduled this matchup for one of their Christmas matchups in part because of the mutual disdain that neither side can hide. It’s a healthy interplay between an up-and-coming, confident young competitor obsessed with taking down the established champion.

The Memphis core is younger, longer, and bouncier and has had games when they physically outplay the older, slower Warriors. But just like the entirety of that six-game second-round victory seven months ago, the Warriors seem to outlast the Grizzlies with their brains, beating them in the marginal ways that always made the champions the champions. Green’s bait on a Jackson foul is a small example in a game full of them.

“They are talented,” said Klay Thompson. “We are talented. We are experienced.

This was a terrible time for the Warriors to get a motivated Grizzlies team finally healthy after the recent return of Desmond Bane. Steph Curry will miss at least a few more weeks and Andrew Wiggins played his 10th consecutive game, recovering from a groin injury that manager Steve Kerr acknowledged lasted longer than expected.

But – easier to say in hindsight – it might actually be the perfect time for the Warriors to tie the Grizzlies. They came home reeling after a 1-5 road trip that dropped them to 15-18 on the season, and they needed a close performance to kick-start a crucial eight-game homestand as they tried to tread water for time. enough for Curry. Returns.

Green, listed as questionable with foot pain, looked physically fit and brought his typical focus to a big stage. Driving much of the action, he had 13 rebounds, 13 assists and your typical technique. Thompson didn’t shoot well, but he was physically defensive and spent the night barking at the Grizzlies, punctuated by the memorable taunt of a Dillon Brooks trip after Thompson dunked a jumper to essentially seal the win.

“Just good old-fashioned small talk,” Thompson said. “I didn’t think it warranted a coach, but I forgot the teasing rule.”

Jordan Poole played the biggest role of the night. To beat Memphis’ defensive length and activity, you need a shot maker and maker. Without Curry and Wiggins, the Warriors are essentially left with Poole, who was having a rough end to the recent trip.

Poole scored 17 points in the first quarter, battling Brooks’ physicality, over Jackson’s length and behind the Grizzlies’ overplay scheme to score on a variety of stepback 3s, midrangers and floaters. He had 32 points in 29 minutes early in the fourth quarter. But it was also when he faced official Marc Davis after a no-call and was hit by a second coach, leading to an automatic ejection. He was Poole’s eighth coach of the season.

“He knows he can’t get a second one,” Kerr said. “He is still a young player. Jordan was fantastic tonight. We needed offensive firepower from him. The great thing with Jordan is that I still think he has a level or two to really get to the point where he’s hitting his ceiling. This involved playing with balance – whether it was avoiding the referees or tending to the ball. But he is doing a great job competing and helping us stay afloat.”

Bane hit the free throw after Poole’s ejection, cutting the Warriors’ lead to 16 with 9:20 remaining. Without context, that margin looks comfortable, but it felt vulnerable without Curry, Wiggins and Poole, given the lack of bench punching the Warriors have shown for most of the season.

But that’s what was different and encouraging about this game for them. The focused veterans led, but the young group behind them followed. Kerr went into a lineup that included Jonathan Kuminga, Moses Moody and James Wiseman late in the first quarter, and in a five-minute stretch, the Warriors actually extended their lead to two points against one of the deepest teams in the league.

Kerr put them in the rotation again in the second half, and all three lottery picks turned up productive minutes. Moody scored 10 points and hit a great possession in the fourth quarter after Poole’s ejection. He was a plus-2. Kuminga cleared the way for eight free throws. He was a plus-21. Wiseman didn’t even attempt a shot in his eight minutes, but he probably put in the best defensive stretch of his early career.

After Wiseman’s run in the first half, Kerr came out to spur him on and even let him know his only negative: “The foul was bull—.”

“He was great defensively,” Kerr said of Wiseman. “Excellent. Patrolling the paint. Getting between the ball and the basket but still being able to cover the man who rolls.”

Kerr, in a lengthy interview in New York last week, went into more detail about the development of Wiseman (and Kuminga and Moody). You can read it here.

But these are the types of enhanced goods Kerr is referring to. In a 10-second clip, he bottles up several pick-and-roll actions and goes weak to contest a shot.

Or how about that for an uplifting sequel to the Warriors front office and coaching staff? Kuminga opens on Ja Morant. The Grizzlies protect him to make Morant attack Wiseman. Kuminga recognizes him and rejoins the game just in time to stop Morant’s baseline attack. Wiseman acknowledges and moves back into position to still protect the hoop. Morant dribbles a pass out of bounds.

Donte DiVincenzo hit two huge 3s in the first quarter, had five total and scored 19 points, continuing his emergence. Anthony Lamb made three three-pointers in the first half. Ty Jerome had what Kerr called the biggest streak of the night, making three straight jumps within 65 seconds of each other to give the Warriors much-needed breakup. They are getting useful production from both signed players.

It all came together for a second straight win in their last two home games. The Warriors are 16-18, but they beat the Celtics pretty convincingly without Wiggins and just beat the Grizzlies without Curry and Wiggins, taunting them the entire time. Those were his two biggest playoff threats a season ago. Neither of the two rivals, in advantageous scenarios, has not yet managed to resolve them.

“I just challenged the guys to build it,” Kerr said. “We have seven consecutive home games ahead of us. We’ve been great at home, but we haven’t built a lot of momentum this year. It’s a kind of stops and starts. So it looks like it’s time to increase it.”

(Photo of Draymond Green driving against Jaren Jackson Jr.: Darren Yamashita / USA Today)